Market Research – Election Style?!

by DJI

I just mailed in my ballot for the upcoming election.   It was a good feeling:   I was naturalized as a US citizen just one month after the 2008 federal election, so this is my first crack at voting for President.   It’s been quite a ride and I’m very happy to finally have a say in this country’s future.

In the process of exercising my newly acquired right to vote in my adoptive country, I’ve become a bit of a political junkie.   In Canada, where I grew up, election cycles are short and there is nowhere near the theater that Americans must endure.   Some might say that Canada has it right, however I will admit that I’ve never been a more informed voter than I am now.   I jumped in and navigated through the primaries, both conventions, all the debates and countless “expert” roundtables on the major news and cable networks.   I found myself wishing I lived in a swing state so I could see desperate campaigning up close.   Even better would be the coveted title of “undecided voter” and a chance to ask a question at the town hall debate, or participate in a cable news focus group!

For me, as a moderator, the liberal use of the term “focus group” by the media has been a laugh.  I am always sensitive to how focus groups are portrayed on TV.   When I saw the rows of people sitting stadium-style clutching their dial testing devices at the debates I cringed a little.   It didn’t look like a small group that would be able to freely discuss the issues in a neutral setting, and in the rush to cover all the issues, probing processes were likely sidelined.   On the other hand, I did find myself glued to the little yellow and green lines across the bottom of the screen that signified male and female responses to the candidates in real time.

No matter how it is portrayed, the role of focus groups, dial testing and polls in the election discourse has been fairly prominent.  This is on top of the polling and countless focus groups done by the individual campaigns that is not shared with the public.  The fact that many are questioning the validity of polls based on the incidence of cell phone usage, perceived bias on the part of the poll’s sponsor and just general disagreement with the results has not stopped pundits from endlessly discussing polling numbers daily.   This is probably one time where many regular news-watchers can actually name a handful of different market research companies.

As we move into a world where social media chatter drives the news story of the day and monitoring Twitter and Facebook feeds often takes the place of more robust traditional market research methods, I’m heartened to see that when the rubber hits the road, analysts are still turning to the tried-and-true.   ‘Good old’ polls and focus groups are king.   At least until Nov 6.

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